An artist balanced between extremes

BEIRUT: Carla Barchini’s “Self Portrait III” (61.5x83 cm) depicts a tightrope-walker, navigating a line connecting twin mountain peaks. Painted as if from above and to the left, the altitude is sufficient that wing-like icicles have formed on the ends of the figure’s balancing pole. Both above and below, the skies in this mixed-media work are so singularly gray as to seem diseased, with suppurations forming at various points on the wood surface. Rendered in the manner of classical East Asian landscape – with terrain emerging from washes of snow and mist – the mountain peaks are an evocation of a Rorschach test.

For Lebanese artist Carla Barchini (b. 1971) her professional life began after the death of her father, an architect and antique aficionado. Her discovery of her father’s artistic yearnings triggered her own interest in antique furniture and she worked for a spell as antique furniture restorer in Florence.

Her love of mixed media like wood panels, steel and leather started to mingle from there. Her creations do not simply juxtapose materials.

In an interview with Le Monde in January 2012, she defined her creations as a means to “put the nonmaterial into the material.”

This will be the goal of viewers looking in on the 42 mixed-media works on show in “Beyond Matter,” Barchini’s new exhibition at Gemmayzeh’s Art on 56th.

Ranging from the massive (the biggest being of 198x102 cm) to the miniature (15.5x12.5 cm for the smallest), Barchini’s creations explode with creativity. The titles alone – “The Dragon Skin,” “La Peche aux Etoile” (Fishing for Stars), “Flying Carpet” and “The Lost Soul” – will lure onlookers on a journey through the nocturnal, astrological, fantastical and astronomical realms.

“Flying Carpet” is probably the artist’s most original work. The surface of this 150x120 cm piece is the yellow rooftop of a car, to which Barchini has applied dots of black paint with touches of red and blue.

The exhibit plaque explains how the artist found an abandoned car, removed its roof and used it as a medium. Barchini further writes that painting on it “felt like sewing a flying carpet on a very heavy subject. This strong contrast made [her] think about the city of Beirut.”

Indeed the more we gaze at the piece, the more we feel we are looking at a map of the capital. Echoes of urban architecture dominate, with rare open spaces represented by black and red and blue dots apparently embodying significant spots on the map. Barchini’s work transcends the typical. “Flying Carpet” enables onlookers to exchange their vision of the visible, to the felt.

A key is the motif linking her diptych “Dynamo” (130x89 cm) and “La Cle” (The Key, 115x172 cm). Here, a key has been broken in two pieces and affixed to both parts of the artwork.

“The keys,” the artist explained to The Daily Star, “are a legacy from my father who left – in a corner of his wood lab in Lebanon – a bag full of keys.”

In “La Cle,” the importance of the item has been brought to a new level. The bright red background is ornamented with black stripes, representing what appears to be the denuded branches two trees – though some unusually straight branches resemble old-fashioned television aerials, from which dangle rectangular forms reminiscent of doors or windows.

At the center of the artwork is the precious key, bonding both “trees” together. Immediately below it, are clustered blotched lines of black, suggesting human figures, their forms distorted by the intervening atmosphere.

It is a “symbolic element representing knowledge, curiosity, mystery and secrets,” Barchini explained.

“I’m trying to open mind doors to reach the hidden part of the self by using this symbol.”

In her artist’s statement, Barchini describes her work as “using materials that combine or contrast to create a chemistry, a duality, a variety of combinations.” This is the impact of “La Cle.” The heaviness evoked by the thick application of black paint works in counterpoint to the lightness of the fruit-like hues that variously leak, explode, or rise mist-like from the branches.

That same effect is conveyed in “Sospeso a un Sogno” (Suspended in a Dream). This 120x100 cm mixed-media-on-wood piece depicts two unidentifiable, steeply vertical objects. The black paint used to render the forms seems to be running up the panel, as though drawn skyward by an invisible force.

At their uppermost extent, these Wiley Coyote-type cliff faces are linked to one another by a lone thin black line. There, somewhat more than halfway between the two monoliths – nearly lost in the magnitude of the vista – strides a tiny figure, a balancing pole drooping heavily at both ends.

Carla Barchini’s “Beyond Matter” is on show at Art on 56th until July 27. For more information, please call 01-570-331 or visit





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